I just listened to Rabbi Chaim Mintz respond to a question raised about secular Humanistic Jews. His response was expectedly short-sighted, judgmentally quick, and indignant. Basically he said that if you don’t believe in the supernatural and don’t embrace Torah, then you’re not Jewish. If it weren’t so laughable, it would be extremely sad. But, such can be expected by the extremely vocal religious minority in our midst. For, they operate from a limited and distorted mindset.
First, they believe in the supernatural, a human created perception, as if it is demonstrably real. They also make the assumption that secular Jews reject Torah completely. This is far from the truth, rather we appreciate our ancestor’s written works for what they are – Jewish written literature to engage in and learn from. Religious Jews also make the assumption that without Torah and Torah’s inaccurate version of actual Jewish history, then there would be no Jews. This, too, is far from the truth, seeing how it was a real Jewish people in ancient history that wrote what would become in modern history the redacted Torah and TaNaKh. Meaning, the Jewish people preceded the Jewish national religion we created for ourselves. But, all this falls on deaf ears when speaking to the religious. Why?
The answer is obvious. For the highly religious Jew, Judaism is nothing but a religion. Being Jewish only fits, in their mindset, within the boundaries of their religious theology. This is, despite their inaccurately taught history, a rather modern development for the Jewish people. And, despite general modern misconception, the highly religious Jewish movements are not actually representative of ancient Jewish lifestyle and beliefs. This is just the simple historical truth on this matter.
We have always been a people before being a religion, and this is easy to historically verify by anyone willing to look. (Hint, you have to look outside the Torah.) In essence, what the highly religious do is limit the rich fullness of what it means to be a Jew down to a ritualized-determined stereotype. Then, they go and denounce anyone who doesn’t fit this as not Jewish, all to justify their limited view of reality. The only thing this serves is to strengthen their self righteousness. It sure doesn’t make the rest of us Jews and our secular Humanistic movements go away. But, it is sad to see the snickers of a Rabbi bent on denouncing fellow Jews for not being his definition of what a Jew is.
We will always be an ethno-culture with a national religion, that some will follow and some will not. As it has always been with us Jews throughout history. At first, historically, we were polytheistic with a monarchy for government. Then, with the loss of the monarchies, we became henotheistic, having formed a newly developed religion-based theocracy for a government. Then, in the modern era of history, we became monotheistic, with a rabbinical leadership and Talmud for a government. Then, the first “as a religion only” movements began from European Emancipation – like Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox and Conservative and Reform – and, so too, the non-religious movements – like Yiddishists and Zionists and Secular Humanistic. Our history as a Jewish people, an ethno-culture, is very deep and very diversified. It is a magical wonder of our ability to adapt and survive as a Jewish people!
What these religous Rabbis fail to understand is that they only have a say on who is a “religious” Jew, and not on who is a Jew. So long as one has Jewish ancestry and so long as one is accepted as a Jew in an established Jewish community, whether religious or whether secular, one is a recognized Jew and their children are born Jewish. And there is no avoiding this reality! It would be incredibly foolish for the Jewish people as a whole to see it otherwise. It would be akin to ethno-cultural suicide, threatening the very continuity of Jewish tradition and survival. The very definition of who is a Jew and who is not is clearly and self-evidently obvious! Let us all together as a Jewish people recognize our diversity, and the importance of maintaining this ethno-cultural diversity. It is important to embrace all of the different ways we express our Jewish heritage as a family nation.
“Society for Humanistic Judaism” –
Rabbi, What Are Your Thoughts …
Now, for those actually interested in learning what Secular Humanistic Judaism is before pre-judging it, here’s the links to two of their organizations: